Before I go any further with this post, let me say this:I am pretty sure that if the TGB readers who comment here regularly enough so that we come to know one another as much as is possible through our words and phrases and opinions and jokes and ideas – and if we all lived in the same town, each of us could find at least one good friend among our number.
Alas. We are spread around the world.
Back in July, I posted a story - a meditation I called it - on making new friends in old age; you can read it here. Since then, several readers have emailed asking me to follow up.
The biggest takeaway from the comments in July was that with only a couple of exceptions, everyone who had something to say could use a friend.
Most of us had tried the list of suggestions that is repeated on thousands of advice websites. They appear to be fairly successful – if you are looking for an acquaintance. But not so much for a deeper friendship.
Several readers made an important point: that the kinds of experiences that help forge closer relationships don't show up with as much frequency in old age – things like college, first jobs, promotions, marriages, kid and yes, divorce, starting over, etc.
Navigating life events – the good and the bad – with another binds us together and strengthens connections that endure. They give us those "remember when..." moments we enjoy for years to come.
But there are fewer such opportunities when the children are gone, we are no longer in the workforce and we don't get out and about as much as when we were younger.
As to that list of suggestions for making new friends, one reader, Melanie Jongsma, offered this insight:
”I am [only] 49, and I recently lost my best friend. I'm not limited by mobility or health problems, and I've been intentional about working hard to make new friends.
“I do manage to keep myself busy, but activity is not the same as friendship. At some point I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”
There are two takeaways for me from Melanie's note. First:“Activity is not the same as friendship” is true. But re-reading everything from July – my post and all your comments – it struck me that it is useful, in making the effort to find a friend, to do it through a shared activity that keeps you engaged together but leaves a lot of room for conversation.
As reader Rosemary Woodel wrote:
”I go hiking with people I am just beginning to know so we have deeper conversations on the trail.”
Smart choice. It is important, I think, to find interests that create the space to talk one-on-one. Less physically ambitious events would work too. A movie, for example, if you are sure to include a meal or tea afterwards to talk over what you've watched together and let the conversation wander where it will from there.
The second point for me in Melanie's comment is this:
”I may have to simply concede that I will probably never have a 'best friend' again. Maybe that's ok.”
As much as I find old age to be the most interesting time of life, even I must admit that among all the gratifications and pleasures, there is loss, and the death of relatives and friends is among the hardest.
But those tragedies come with the gift of life and there is nothing to do but grieve, each in our way, and then to keep moving forward. Lots of things change in old age and it is possible that for some of us the idea of a “best friend” is better suited to youth.
Perhaps old age, commonly a period of personal reflection which requires some amount of time alone, doesn't have as much room for the continuous sharing of best friends. Maybe we are asking too much of ourselves and of a potential friend – and courting disappointment - if we believe it must be the kind of impassioned attachment that happened years ago.
If looked at that way, couldn't it mean that “lighter” friendships can be as satisfying in their way? A friend for movies? Another for hiking? One for sushi? Combine and mix them up now and then? Or not?
I have one friend I've been meeting for lunch once every week or two for more than a year. We never spend longer than an hour at it, sometimes others are included, mostly not and we have never done anything else together. It seems to be comfortable for each of us the way it is and I would miss her if those lunches stopped.
Our lives are different in many ways in old age. I wonder, then, if it is as much a mistake to expect new friendships to be as intense now as in our younger years as it is to expect to jump as high or run as fast we once could.
But then, what do I know? Not much about this except one thing for sure: a friendship of any degree must be nurtured. Frequently. And that is best done in person. But if it can't be, other kinds of being together help a whole lot.
What do you think? Other thoughts?